ELMS, Harry M. A.
ELMS, Henry "Harry" Minto Alexander (1866-1962) was born in England, but moved to California as a child with his parents, Henry and Jane Elms, and siblings, James and Laura. Henry Elms was a doctor who had owned a drugstore on the mainland. The Elms family moved to Avalon, Santa Catalina Island in 1888 to open the first souvenir shop — Avalon Shell Store — located in a tent along the beach. Island Indian relics the family found were also sold.
Henry Alexander Elms (1833-1912) =  Jane Minto (1842- )
- 1. Henry "Harry" Minto Alexander Elms (1866-1962) = Alice Mabel Elms (1881-1952)
- 2. Laura Elms (1870-1891) died of tuberculosis
- 3. James Alexander Elms (1872-1957)
Operating from the store, Harry Elms became Avalon’s first postmaster on July 27, 1889. Catalina’s mail distribution had its beginnings from a 10 x 12 foot tent on Metropole Avenue in 1887. Elms volunteered his service to accommodate the growing community. After 1892 his pay was based on the number of stamp cancellations. The first post office building was located on Crescent Avenue in the steamer terminal building in 1896.
At the age of 17, Harry's brother, Jimmy Elms, opened a fish and bait shop in Avalon, partnering with an Italian and a Turkish fishermen.
Harry's sister, Laura Elms, died at age 21 of tuberculosis in September 1891. Hers was the second grave in the cemetery, after Nathaniel Parsons. Of her death, Catherine MacLean Loud wrote in her manuscript:
- On the last day of September the entire town was in the morning for the death of one of their loved maidens, Laura Elms, age 21, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Elms, only sister of Harry and James Elms. Laura, a charming girl, talented in drawing, and enjoyed Catalina outings and sails to the surrounding islands in a boat, sketching as she went. She was often accompanied by her favorite escort, Harry Polley and Harry’s dog, “Chris”, a little fox terrier which was named for Christopher Columbus, “who like to sail, too!” Together, Harry, Laura and “Chris” rode the shorelines, fish, barbecued on the shore, exhilarated with life, youth and the bright future. Then she was stricken, and Harry failed to visit her. Mainly she waited. Others visited her, telling of the news of each day on the bay, the town and the Valley. Laura was saddened by this neglect. Folks only hoped, prayed, watched and waited, as did Laura while she faded away. She had contracted tuberculosis from caring for a girlfriend who had the disease and in turn, Laura’s mother, Mrs. Elms, contracted the same dread disease. The night Laura died attentive, John D. MacLean, who loved her, too, sat by her bedside all night for 2 PM, his future loomed as dark as the vigil he kept. During the next morning John MacLean put pine boards together while others brought broad banana leaves from Peter Gano’s trees to cover the hoops protecting the casket. Flowers were gathered from hillsides and garden plot. The church bells rang announcing the funeral services. Mrs. Etta Whitney played Laura’s favorite hymns on the little organ to commence the services, the second funeral in Avalon’s history. The pastor, Rev. George Morris, conducted the simple service which was attended by all the townsfolk in the loving tribute of remembrance, as the church bell rang, Laura’s body was carried to the cemetery and laid next to the only other grave (Nathaniel Parson’s) also facing North. This bright North Star, in all her coast wise and other island excursions, had never failed as a pivot to bring her safely home. Two known pallbearers were Sandy Macdonell and John D. MacLean.
During his years on the island, Harry Elms became a well-known boatman, taking customers out in his launch Mildred. At one point, Elms and a patron hooked an enormous 600-pound tuna. The fish was lost only after an intense fourteen-hour battle.
Harry Elms died on January 27, 1962 in Los Angeles County at the age of 95. He is buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Long Beach. He is buried next to his wife, Alice, who died ten years earlier at age 70.
In the News~
November 7, 1892 [LAH]: “Catalina Township. Catalina Election Precinct ~ At Pavillon. Inspectors William Condit, Alonzo Wheeler. Judges — William M. Hunt, E. J. Whitney. Clerks — S. Eddy, George Morris. Ballot Clerks — Harry Elms, Theophilus Parsons.”
August 9, 1896 [LAH]: “Mr. Willard Barnhart of Grand Rapids, Mich., and C. P. Morehous of Pasadena, with Harry Elms as expert boatman, landed with rod and reel fourteen yellowtail, one barracuda and three rock bass off Goat Harbor.”
September 12, 1896 [LAH]: “Capt. W. H. Burnham has sailed away to San Nicolas Island, having as guests on board his beautiful yacht San Diego Messrs. Thomas Nelms and P. G. Wooster of Pasadena. Mr. Harry Elms, the expert curio collector, will guide them over the island. They spent last night at Johnson's Landing, located at the west end of this [Santa Catalina] island. They will return Sunday or Monday next.”
June 28, 1898 [LAH]: “Avalon, June 27.—Yesterday was a day for large catches of small fish. The tuna and Jew fish are counted the only large fish, even if some of the yellow tail do weigh thirty pounds. To Dr. E. C. Buell and Miss Beulah Shannon fall the honors for the largest catch. In Mr. Elms' launch Mildred the party went out early in the afternoon and returned about 5 o'clock with 17 barracuda and 3 yellowtail and a good deal of sunburn. ”
July 1, 1898 [LAH]: “Avalon, June 30.—The tuna are still shy and the barracuda are still hungry. Record continue to be broken in the same old way. The record made yesterday will no doubt hold good for some time. Mr. and Mrs. A. Frank were out with Harry Elms in the launch Mildred and got forty-seven barracuda and four yellowtail. The catch was made on the other side of the island on both rod and reel and hand line. The barracuda were so thick over there that the work of hauling them in became monotonous and could not really be classed as sport.”
August 8, 1898 [LAH]: “Avalon, Catalina Island, Aug. 7.—Gail Borden and W. G. White were out with Harry Elms in the launch Mildred, and were not so particular as to what they caught, jewfish of course preferred. When their catch was hung up on the rack it was a conglomerate collection of deep sea fish such as seldom seen in a single catch. There was one jewfish, four yellowtail, two rock bass, four barracuda, and forty whitefish. All were caught on rod and reel, pulled in by Harry Elms while munching his lunch.”
: “...Mr. Schenck is a veteran at tuna fishing. He comes out to Santa Catalina every summer, religiously, from his home in New York, to engage in what he asserts is the greatest sport on earth. Last summer he inveigle nineteen of these masterful fish into trouble, but ow many got away with his is another story. He entered the ring this time with the utmost confidence in his ability to do things to his fish, and for encouragement recounted the notches on the end of his rod. It was an intensely interesting interview he had. The big fish, after the manner of the mackerel, made a rush. It seemed as though it never would stop. The brake was part on to the last ounce the little thread would stand, and then the fish was towing the boat and taking line at an alarming rate. It must be checked soon or the 900 feet of line would be all gone. The launch was hastily backed toward the fish until it fortunately changed its course, and then the angler had an inning and recovered enough line to place him beyond immediate danger. Another fierce rush was made, and then another and another. The angler was put on his mettle and all his skill brought into requisition to parry the rushes, and the fish was fighting as though possessed of seven devils. It played all the tricks its mother had taught it, which were not a few, and at the end of an hour whatever advantage had been gained seemed to be with the fish. The angler would gain a few turns on the reel and the tuna would force it out again, and all his efforts to tire the fish were vain. Two hours passed and still the battle raged. Mr. Schenck, anxious to end the struggle, as his strength was failing, was fighting desperately. Harry Elms, his boatman, who is also a veteran angler, was coaching: 'Now give it to him!' 'Don't let him run!' 'Check him!' 'Check him!' 'Now pump him!' 'Lift him!' 'There; three or four turns.' Perspiration was pouring off the old gentleman in rivulets. His hands, cut and bruised in a dozen places, were bloody as a butchers, and he was fast losing strength. Two hours and a half passed and Mr. Schenck was about done out. The fish was still fighting furiously, although a lot of line had been gained on it. Harry was still coaching, and would have been glad to give the angler a minute's rest by taking the rod, but under the rules of the Tuna Club no one is allowed to so much as even touch the rod, reel or line of the angler while fighting a fish, or his catch will not be registered or recognized by the club. The Tuna Club holds a fishing tournament every summer covering three or four months in which substantial prizes are given for the first tuna of the season and for the largest fish in all the classes of fish taken in these waters, the presidency of the club going to the member who succeeds in taking the largest tuna. Mr. Schenck's fish being apparently the first tuna of the season and two fine pries being hung up — one to the angler and one to the boatman — besides the honor of having taken the first fish, which is not lightly esteemed, there was much involved in this fight. 'Keep a stiff upper lip, you'll soon have him cursing,' said Harry. 'Now pump him! Lift him again!' 'The Lord knows I'm doing the best I can, Harry!' I can't lift a pound any more; I'm played out!' was Mr. Schenck's reply, and after another final effort he most hesitantly handed the rod over to Harry. Harry took the rod and there was something doing about there for the space of the next fifteen minutes when the hourly fighter was safely landed. It weighed 138 pounds. The credit of the first tuna of the season fell to Co. R. A. Eddy, of San Francisco, who went out with the same boat and boatman employed by Mr. Schenck, and in one hour's time reported back with a 124-pound tuna.” [American Rifleman 30:326 (1901)]